- Craig Custance
From a hockey writer standpoint, it's also a great opportunity to grab a wide range of important people in the league when they descend on Toronto to honor the incoming class. Monday was no different. Here are the highlights of a dozen or so interviews conducted around the inductions:
• Keith Primeau hosted a Monday afternoon news conference to bring awareness to concussion education, and his work on the issue is very admirable after concussions forced him out of hockey. He's also endorsing a new chin strap that measures the force of hits. He was kind enough to sit down for a few minutes and chat about his role in raising concussion awareness. He mentioned he still suffers headaches from his concussions, and I asked whether those symptoms would prevent him from playing in the alumni game before the Winter Classic.
"I can't play in that," he answered. "For a couple reasons. One, I don't feel comfortable enough doing it. I have my skates on almost every day but haven't had my equipment on since the day I retired. Secondly, I can't go back to where I was. Whether accident or intentional, [if] somebody accidentally bumped me or I fall and hit my head -- I can't go back to that place." The Flyers contacted Primeau about playing, but he decided to accept a coaching position for the game instead. "It piqued my interest, but it's too dangerous," he said.
• Former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter grew up in Philadelphia, so he's excited about the opportunity to play in the alumni game and be a part of the Winter Classic. "I'm a huge fan of this outdoor game. It gets back to the roots of our game. I'll participate in whatever I can," he said. "I grew up idolizing the Flyers. We had a couple wars against them many times ... to get another kick at that is a very cool thing. I'll definitely be there one way or another."
• The general managers will meet Tuesday morning, and the Flyers' use of stall tactics against the Lightning last week continues to be a hot topic. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren expects the GMs to discuss the issue. "We're going to take a look at it," Holmgren said. "It generated a lot of response, a lot of ideas and opinions from both sides. I'm sure it'll be a good conversation."
While Flyers fans took issue with Tampa's passive 1-3-1 trap, Holmgren didn't sound too upset with it. "It's just the nature of the game right now," he said. "I don't know if there can be anything done about it or should be. I certainly don't have a problem with what Tampa Bay did. They're trying to win a game."
• NHL exec Rob Blake said discussion around the NHL offices will turn toward the All-Star Game shortly after Thanksgiving, but he said to expect a very similar format to the fantasy draft and skills competition that were successful last season in Raleigh. He also said it's safe to assume that Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson will be the captain of one of the All-Star teams choosing players. "I would hope so ... for what he's done for the league over the years," Blake said. "Rightly deserved."
One tweak may come in the way the final player is selected in the fantasy draft to avoid the embarrassment Phil Kessel had to deal with last season. Kessel's opinion will play a part in the decision. "I don't think anything has been finalized there. There will be some talking to Phil Kessel to see how the whole thing was portrayed," said Blake, who then added, "but he seems to be doing just fine."
• Rangers GM Glen Sather said he's pleased with the way his team has been playing lately and believes that the adversity the Rangers have suffered -- from the long road trip to Marc Staal's injury -- ultimately will make New York a stronger team come playoff time. There will be even more distractions this season -- HBO's "24/7," the Winter Classic and surely Sean Avery will make more headlines -- but Sather said his team is better prepared for it.
"There's a lot of things that are going to happen this year," Sather said. "That kind of adversity really builds character. There's nothing wrong with having adversity on your hockey team. I think it makes you a better hockey club." I asked for a Staal update and didn't get one. "I wouldn't tell you if I knew," he said, but pointed out that other players have risen to the occasion in Staal's absence. "The opportunity with him not being there presents something for somebody else. It just helps your team grow in character."
• Igor Larionov is one of the NHL's newest agents, and he has two impressive young clients in Russian's Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. Yakupov is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in June's draft, and Galchenyuk was a projected top-10 pick whose draft status is in jeopardy after knee surgery. Larionov said Galchenyuk's recovery is ahead of schedule and remains hopeful he'll play again this season for the OHL's Sarnia Sting.
"He's been doing rehab five times a week, he's doing fine," Larionov said. "Right now, there's no timetable. ... He's actually ahead of schedule, which is good. At the same time, you have to be very careful. He's been doing really good. Hopefully we'll see him at the end of the season."
Larionov doesn't think the injury will hurt Galchenyuk's draft status. "I don't think so," he said. "Players like that don't come every day." Yakupov is Galchenyuk's close friend and teammate, and Larionov said there was an adjustment period for Yakupov after Galchenyuk was hurt. But Yakupov has made the adjustment to his new linemates and is widely considered the strong favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick, even if Larionov won't say it. "You don't want to jinx him," he said, smiling.
• Tarik El-Bashir wrote a fantastic story on Joel Ward in Tuesday's Washington Post. I didn't realize how many teams cut Ward before he established himself with the Predators, including the Thrashers, Red Wings (twice) and Wild. The most telling quote in the piece comes from Washington GM George McPhee: "I'd rather have someone that gets 10-15 [goals] in the regular season but delivers in the playoffs than someone who gets 25 and doesn't," McPhee said.
• Tyler Myers, a healthy scratch Monday against Montreal, is trying to shake off another slow start. Myers' decision-making has been questionable this season, and he's (rightly) being criticized for not jumping in to defend Ryan Miller after the collision with Milan Lucic. "It's definitely got to be a lot more aggressive than what it was. We all know. We've had discussions as a team," Myers told the Buffalo News. "That's got to be different. You never expect a hit like that to happen, especially on a goalie, but that's no excuse. We have to prove we're not a soft team."
• With the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg, Dustin Byfuglien's game is being scrutinized more closely than ever, and he finally delivered with his most impressive performance of the season Monday night. Byfuglien set up the first goal of the game, assisting on Evander Kane's first-period goal. He scored later in that period, his third goal of the season. He was a plus-1. For one night, it helped quiet the criticism in Winnipeg, wrote Gary Lawless. "This was Dustin's best game with the Jets," coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Free Press. "He's got a lot of tools. He can be a great player, not just for us but in this league. He can be outstanding."
Craig Custance checks in with some notes from the Hall of Fame inductions red carpet, including updates on the Rangers, the All-Star game and the expected No. 1 pick in the draft.